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Sunday, April 7, 2019

Went to a Fight and a Hockey Game (almost) Broke Out

Yeah, so the glass wasn't exactly NHL quality - suck it up buttercup.

Cleaning blood off the ice in the 1st period.

The Danville Dashers' goalie was not a happy camper.

Christian Pavlas: 24 of 25 stopped.


A 4,000 seat arena and it was packed.

30 seconds left and this might have been the 30th or so fight.
The FHL is an interesting league. It's the kind of place where refs might want to get their kung-fu up to snuff so they can defend themselves on the ice from the coach of the Carolina Thunderbirds (suspended six games) and the owner of the Elmira Enforcers (got a fine). When the Carolina coach got suspended earlier this year his girlfriend took over coaching duties. Was she a former female player? Nope. She's a fitness model (although apparently she's been the team's fitness trainer).

The league's a half step up from a beer league for most of the teams except for the Thunderbirds who seem to have imported a minor league Eastern European team. The difference shows. Carolina has only lost six games this entire year which has gotten it a devoted fan base, but I don't think has made them the most popular team in the league. Oh, and the team's coach, Andre Niec, keeps signing himself to "celebrity" contracts so he can play. He did so for this game (more on that later).

The Carolina Thunderbirds play in a building set up for college hockey and scrub play - except they put in 4,000 seats. Unlike most arenas you go to, this is not a place where they keep the ice cold and your seating warm; bring a coat. Bring a coat, gloves, scarf, and toboggan (or you could go Canadian and show up in shorts and complain about the heat). This is my second time going to the place and each time it's been packed; you'd think the body heat would warm it a little, but nope they've got a really good cooling system in there. And don't expect the nice clean glass you see in the NHL or even the decent, couple of scrapes glass you see in most minor leagues. Nope. That glass looks like it's been used for years and will keep getting used until somebody goes through it.

So, I got a seat on the glass. As luck would have it, the rest of the row was filled with couples from the local college on date night. The girl sitting next to me, when she wasn't semi paying attention to the poor guy trying to make an impression (must have been a first date) was beating the heck out of the glass. And she wasn't just hitting it with two hands like most fans. She was actively trying to hit where the heads of opposing players were when they crashed into the glass. She never quite succeeded, but by the end of the game there were some unhappy Danville Dashers looking rather pointedly at our row. The girl, a few beers in by then, either didn't notice or didn't care.

The first period was a full-on fight for supremacy on the ice. Literally. It started with the Dashers' goalie just plain getting run over and shoved down onto his back in his goal (they lifted it off him and he got up eventually - no penalty). First blood was drawn by the Dashers. Again, literally. They put a Thunderbird down hard and his nose started gushing. He laid there for a few seconds, then got up and bolted for the exit to the locker room. The next 10-15 minutes were spent scraping his blood from the ice.

For a while it was just hard, punishing play. Then it morphed into brawls. And more brawls. And even more brawls. The Danville goalie was angry with the world - or at least everyone in Carolina and he was not shy about letting them know. I even saw him go out during one of the standoffs and hit a Carolina player with his stick. The goalie was trying to pick fights; never seen that before. Of course, nobody fights the goalie so he didn't have much luck. At the end of the first period (ding, ding, ding) the Thunderbirds were up 2-1 and I kept looking around for the ring girl (no luck; they didn't even have ice girls).

The second period was more of a hockey match instead of a boxing one. By its end, the Thunderbirds were up 4-1.

Then third got going (ding, ding, ding) and it was on again. Between the various thumpings, they did manage to play a little hockey and Carolina got three more goals to make it extremely lopsided. Meanwhile, the team's coach got a hat trick with about a minute and a half left which the fans went nuts over. Yes, the coach once again declared himself a celebrity and signed a celebrity contract. Then with thirty seconds left a nasty brawl broke out and once the refs got that sorted out the game ended. The fans stayed to the very end (impressive).

All-in-all, this is much as I remembered it from last time. It is about as fun as you can have watching a hockey match even if I was worried for a bit there that one of the hockey players was going to find a way to come over the glass and beat the heck out of the guys in our row because the girl kept trying to hit them in the head. I strongly recommend the next time you're in the Winston-Salem area you stop by and catch a game.

FYI: Next week the FHL playoffs start. The Thunderbirds should be at home Saturday and Sunday (if needed).

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